This article was originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.239, 19th July 2019
H.V. Morton’s first book, “The Heart of London” was published by Methuen & Co., of London, on 11 June 1925. It comprises forty-nine essays and sketches of London people and places compiled from a series of seventy-five articles published in the Daily Express newspaper early in 1925. By then HVM was already establishing himself as a creditable feature writer for the Daily Express and a favourite of the newspaper baron, Lord Beaverbrook.
The book ran to at least 25 editions or re-printings by 1949. In October 1926 the fourth edition was produced in a larger format with 24 scissor-cut (silhouette) illustrations by the Viennese artist Lisl Hummel.
Recently I was lucky enough to be able to acquire a copy of the special scissor-cut edition and was able to see for myself these delightful additions to Morton’s observations of his beloved London. The silhouettes have a child-like innocence which complements Morton’s words, adding to them in a way that photographs couldn’t possibly do. They lend the work a slightly fantastical feel, as if we were not learning about actual places or events but rather reading a set of fables.
For this special edition, Morton wrote a special introduction:
LONDON has been pictured by countless pens and brushes, inspired and humdrum, but this is the first time that an artist has hunted the City with a pair of magic scissors. Miss Hummel is a young Viennese artist who has specialised in, or, as I prefer to call it, tamed, a most intractible material—black paper. I think it will be generally agreed that the scissor-cuts in this volume are remarkable for their vitality, their beauty of line and their charm. Before I saw Miss Hummel at work with her magic scissors I had no idea that there could be so much to admire in a silhouette. H.V.M. London, September 1926
Well, curiosity got the better of me and I thought I would do a little digging on the subject of Miss Hummel and find out why her illustrations seemed to resonate so strongly. It took me a while and, as is often the case when researching books, I was all too easily distracted while pursuing connections which, though enjoyable, had little to do with my original project. But eventually I built up a picture of the artist, albeit an incomplete one.
According to this source at AskArt.com (which references “Artists in California, 1786-1940” by Edan Hughes), Lisl Hummel was born in Austria on May 19, 1892 (the same year as HVM). During the 1920s Hummel was a student at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, CA. By 1930 she was married to Dr. Henry Barsook. She worked as a freelance artist in Pasadena into the 1940s and later moved to Oregon with artist Don Foth. She died in Santa Barbara, CA on May 30, 1990. Her works include landscapes with eucalypti and oaks.
This brief biography makes no mention of book illustrations, silhouettes or scissor cuts and suggests she was living in the US when she was involved in illustrating Morton’s work. Eventually however (information is sparse until you know where to look), I started to unearth a few other titles which she had been involved with and straight away the reason her illustrations seemed so evocative became clear. They are all children’s books, and I have a feeling there were a few battered copies around in my various family homes as I grew up. Although one at least is still in print, many seem quite rare these days but occasional copies can be found on the websites of second hand book sellers. Looking at the pictures of covers and illustrated pages to be found online there is a simplicity about them. Like the works of Morton they are unpretentious and accessible, there is no ‘side’ or hidden agenda about them and I could see why Morton’s “The Heart of London” seems to have been the only ‘adult’ work that Miss Hummel has collaborated on.
For the record, the other volumes which I was able to find are as follows:
“The Little Pagan Faun & Other Fancies” by Patrick R Chalmers (a collection of stories from Punch, the dustjacket of the 1914 edition is illustrated with five vignettes from the book). Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston and New York (circa 1914), also Jonathan Cape (1927).
“Toy Ships: Poems for children” by Florence B Steiner (with 25 illustrations). Publisher: The Graphic Publishers, Ottawa (1926).
“A Little Christmas Book” by Rose Fyleman (featuring ten scissor cut illustrations). Publisher: Methuen (1926) and George H. Doran Company, New York (1927).
“Poems for Peter” by Lysbeth Borie (an author from Philadelphia, this book is still in print today). Publisher: J.B. Lippincott & Co. (1928).
“The Four Young Kendalls” by Eliza Orne White. Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company (1932).
“The Good Natured Bear” by Richard Henry Horne. Publisher: Macmillan, New York (1945).
I don’t own any of these books, yet I feel, from looking at their descriptions, I know them and that they have made an impression on me. Anyone who ever watched The Singing Ringing Tree on a tiny old black and white television set as a young child will know exactly what I am talking about!
If anyone knows any more about Miss Hummel and her scissor-cut illustrations I would be delighted to hear from them. In the meantime it is well worth looking out for this unique edition of “The Heart of London” which comes up for sale occasionally, it makes a charming addition to any collection of Mortoniana.
Congratulations to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her Platinum Jubilee.
HV Morton was as patriotic as they come and a monarchist through and through. His profound sense of the history of his native land and of the monarchy shone from many of his books and articles. As one of the most respected writers of the day he was present at the wedding of the the 21 year old Princess Elizabeth to Prince Phillip in November 1947. At the time he described the future monarch as “young and radiant”, comparing the young couple’s love-match to that of Queen Victoria and Albert in the previous century.
Later he was invited “by command of the Queen” to attend the Coronation at Westminster Abbey in 1953, reporting for a number of publications including Illustrated magazine and the National Geographic. By then Elizabeth had already been Queen for sixteen months and, against a background of a London still scarred by war yet already preparing for the possibility of another, Morton described her as a “Queen of Hearts”, a “beautiful young woman… crowned with universal acclaim”.
Morton was born in the twilight of the Victorian age. I wonder if, during his early years working as a cub-reporter at his father’s newspaper in Birmingham he could ever have imagined he would be there to witness the dawn of the new Elizabethan age and to record events for us in his timeless style.
This article was originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.281 on 5th June 2021.
“I, James Blunt”, first published on March 26th, 1942, is HV Morton’s one and only work of fiction. As we have discovered in previous posts this novella was written as part of a propaganda exercise to stiffen resolve on the home-front during the Second World War. It was published initially in Britain as a soft cover edition and later in North America, Australia and New-Zealand in hard-covers. It was also adapted for radio and broadcast on the BBC Home Service on 26 June 1942 at 8.20 p.m..
Morton refused any form of payment for the book, and was personally thanked in writing by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for his contribution to the war effort. In his letter to Morton of 20th August 1942 Churchill compliments the author on the wide circulation of his work and tells him it is “an excellent thing that the horrors of a Nazi occupation should be brought home to the British people in this way”.
The book takes the form of a diary which opens in September 11th 1944 in a fictitious Britain five months after what the eponymous Mr Blunt, a veteran of the last conflict, refers to as “The Capitulation”, namely the defeat and occupation of Britain by the forces of Nazi Germany.
Blunt tells us of a changed Britain – dark and grim – of spies and informers, where petty criminals and bureaucrats have been elevated to positions of power, newly opened German State Schools teach British children to speak German, the Swastika hangs over Buckingham Palace and America is “the last obstacle to the World Order”. In short, Britain is enslaved. Blunt is in constant fear of his life and fears for the safety of his daughter and his outspoken sister under the new regime.
It is a well written work. Morton emulates the diary style of the ordinary man, employing contractions and slang phrases which he wouldn’t dream of using in a serious context elsewhere; he also makes liberal and uncharacteristic use of the exclamation mark. Morton is meticulous when describing Nazi institutions and the uniforms and ranks of the occupying forces; local affairs are governed by a Gauleiter, national issues by a London-based Statthalter whose portrait hangs in every public building. Morton, as always, has done his research.
“I, James Blunt” is part of a body of fiction known as alternative history. As a science-fiction as well as a Morton fan I have long had a keen interest in this genre.
A favourite topic of alternative history books is the fictional scenario where the Nazis under Hitler have won World War II. Some, including Morton’s offering, were written before or during the war. Of this sort one of the most visionary is “Swastika Night”, by feminist author Katharine Burdekin under the pen-name of Murray Constantine. This was written in 1937 but accurately predicted the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, the doctrine of the master race, the subjugation of women and the quest for world domination leading to global conflict.
The majority of such books relating to World War II though, were written after the war presenting what-if theories about a fictional world where the Axis powers had defeated the Allies instead of the other way around as actually happened. There are countless examples of this kind, there is even a wikipedia page dedicated to them and a book on the subject: “The World Hitler Never Made” by Gavriel D. Rosenfield.
Some of my favourites include “Dominion”, by CJ Sansom, “Making History” by Stephen Fry, “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K Dick, “Fatherland” by Robert Harris and “SS-GB” by Len Deighton. The last three have been dramatised for film or television.
Len Deighton’s “SS-GB” is one of the best. As with “I, James Blunt”, there is great attention to detail in his descriptions of Nazi hierarchy and institutions and how they might have been applied in a defeated Great Britain.
It’s not often that things come together as neatly as they did for me a few months ago when I discovered two letters for sale on an internet auction site. They were both from the author Len Deighton to a book-seller by the name of Mr Weatherhead, the first asking if he had in stock a map of 1930’s Germany and the second (which gave me great satisfaction to read), from 1978, thanking the seller for sending him a copy of “I, James Blunt” and suggesting Morton’s “little book” had an influence on his decision to write his own novel “SS-GB”. That’s quite a feather in Morton’s cap if you ask me!
You’ll notice Deighton is keen to buy the copy of Morton’s novella – he obviously had a collector’s eye, it’s one of the rarest titles in his oeuvre.
(Previously issued as HVM Society Snippets – No.282)
HV Morton and his wife, Mary, on his 80th birthday
Today, the 17th June, is the aniversary of HV Morton’s death in 1979 at his home in South Africa.
A number of obituaries appeared at the time but this one, from the Canberra Times of Saturday 30th June 1979 is one of the most touching, at once praising him for his extensive writing and his influence on others while at the same time acknowledging the sad fact that even at that time Morton was becoming ‘unfashionable’ in his home country.
Well, we know better – no one ever accused me of being fashionable!
LONG before there were sky trains and cheap fares, generations of people on the other side of the world did their travelling in Britain through the eyes of one man, H. V. Morton.
Henry Vollam Morton, author and journalist, did his job so well there was scarcely a book club or book shelf from Wagga to Waimate 40 years ago without well-thumbed copies of his travel books.
Old-time Australian journalists accumulated vast stores of knowledge of the geography and history of the British Isles from Morton’s writing.
When someone would remark on their encyclopaedic knowledge of London they would say, ‘I’ve never seen the place, but I’ve been hooked on it for 50 years from Morton’s books’.
Morton’s first book ‘The Heart of London’ was a collection of newspaper stories he wrote for the Daily Express on his return to Fleet Street from service with the Warwickshire Yeomanry in World War I.
His books on London were a taste of the success that was to come when he moved into a broader field with his first book of a series on the British Isles – ‘In Search of England’.
In the hard-up 1930s he had an unheard-of advance of £10,000 (equivalent to at least $A190,000 in today’s values) to write ‘In the Steps of the Master’, which sold something over 150,000 copies and put him into a top royalty rate of 33 per cent.
No one has figures on his total book sales for two publishers, but it must be millions. He wrote 35 books for Methuen’s.
After World War II Morton bought a fruit farm in Somerset West, in the Cape Province of South Africa, and lived there for the rest of his life.
It was strange to reflect, when his death, at the age of 86, was barely noticed in the British Press this week that if his passing had occurred 40 years ago, before the travel boom he helped to create, it would have been front-page news throughout the English-speaking world.
I thought readers might appreciate the following article, taken from the Cape Argus of 21 November 1968. It’s not often we hear from Morton’s wife, but in many ways she was a bit of a power behind the throne!
Featured today in our series on the women behind well-known men Mrs. MARY MORTON, wife of the author, Mr. H.V. Morton. By Neville Woudberg
The wife of a writer needs to be a confidential secretary, a psychiatrist, top-class typist, a cook, an income-tax wizard and be prepared to work for no salary, according to Mr. H.V. Morton, famous for his ‘In Search of…’ travel books.
“I know, because I am fortunate enough to have such a wife,” he told me at his home in Somerset West last week.
Mrs. Mary Morton is his severest critic: “She always suggests I cut the best bits,” he quipped, “but she is usually right.”
“Writers are often temperamental and they need wives who will understand their many moods. It has happened that after writing all day I decide the copy is not up to standard and tear it all up. Mary even understands that.”
When Mr. Morton starts his day’s work he writes in long-hand. After a few hours, however, he switches to the typewriter. Mrs. Morton types all the manuscripts.
“Actually, I am probably the only one who can understand his scrawl,” she said. “Even his typed manuscripts are so heavily changed that if you’re not used to them you’re in trouble.”
Once the manuscript is typed, they go over it together. Then the printers send galley proofs and they each go through a copy, marking any errors they pick up. Once that chore is completed they wait for the page proofs and go through the same process.
“But I reckon the toughest task is the indexing,” Mrs. Morton said. “An index is essential for a travel book but to produce it one has to go through the book with a fine-tooth comb.” She even fills in his income-tax returns.
Mrs. Morton was born in China and stayed there until she was eight, when her parents sent her to school in England. Her father was a tea merchant.
“Those days in China were fabulous,” she said. “Foreigners really lived in style. We had a huge home with a staff of about 18. We had our own tailor, laundry, etc.”
Mrs. Morton travels with her husband and at the moment they are preparing for a trip to Sicily. “We’ll be constantly on the move,” she sighed, “and I know I’ll be glad to get back to Somerset West. Don’t misunderstand me. I love these trips, but I also love my home.”
Sometimes it is necessary for Mr. Morton to visit a country three times before he has all the information he requires for a book. It was on their second such visit to South Africa that the Mortons decided to buy their 50-acre farm at Somerset West.
They also grow all their own vegetables. “That’s Mary’s job,” Mr. Morton laughed. “She supervises that side of the business.” Mrs. Morton took me to a little room off the kitchen, where there were two huge deep freezers. They were packed with frozen vegetables.
“Enough to keep us going for a year,” she said. “See that tomato puree? It’s been frozen since last year.”
Cooking is her special love. “Do you know that she has 150 books on cooking and that she actually reads them for pleasure,” Mr. Morton said.
“Well, you can always learn something new,” his wife retorted. “Cooking is either a chore or an art. For me it is an art.”
Mrs. Morton does most of the cooking at home herself and she always cooks when they have guests.
“Normally I prepare the meal the day before so that I’m not in the kitchen for too long when the guests arrive,” she explained. “I think South African foods are excellent. Often when we have visitors from England I serve bobotie and they regard it as an exotic dish. American food is most practical.”
For relaxation she likes reading – biographies and detective stories, and admits that unfortunately she does not have much time for serious reading.
What does she do when she is on a trip with her husband? “She’s jolly useful,” Mr. Morton cut in, “particularly in Arab countries, where she is able to get into the harems and find out all the scandal and juicy bits of information.”
She also gathers side bits of information, which she passes on to him. People often pester her husband “and she is most successful in dealing with them.”
“We have our share of excitement on our travels,” Mrs. Morton said. “Once, when we arrived in Athens to gather information for ‘In the Steps of St. Paul’ we landed in the middle of a revolution.
“We were being driven into the city when the driver suddenly turned into a barracks. There were soldiers all round. We had no idea whose side they were on or even what the revolution was all about.
“The driver jumped out of the car and started to tell the soldiers that my husband had pledged his support for their side. He was then called on to address the crowd which had gathered.
“Now what was he to say? He waffled on about poetry or something and when he had finished he was given a terrific cheer. “Next day a local newspaper carried a long ‘report’ on the speech. It certainly was not a review of his views on poetry but his supposed support for one side (whichever it was) and a lot of other propaganda.
“It certainly is an exciting life and I love every moment of it.”
This article was originally circulated as Society Snippet 093 on 2009-01-04. With thanks to VJ for tracking it down!
In the late fifties H.V. Morton departed from his more personal style of travel writing when he teamed up with the American Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and the Armenian-born photographer Yousuf Karsh. Together they produced two volumes, “This is Rome” (Hawthorn Books, New York, 1959) and “This is the Holy Land” (Hawthorn Books, New York, 1961) that were described as ‘pilgrimages in words and pictures’.
These two books were published in the USA, UK and Canada. They were, respectively, the second and third in a series of four books published by Hawthorn Books of New York. The other two titles in the series were: (the first) “This is the Mass” (1958), as celebrated by Fulton Sheen and described by Henri Daniel-Rops, photographed by Yousuf Karsh, and translated by Alistair Guinan; and (the fourth) “These are the Sacraments” (1962), by Fulton Sheen, again with photographs by Yousuf Karsh.
You may be interested to know than in recent years a campaign has begun that is hoped will lead to the beatification of Fulton Sheen, which is the route to sainthood.
Fulton John Sheen was born in El Paso, Illinois in May 1895, his grandparents having originated from Ireland. He grew to become a brilliant scholar but he turned down a university scholarship to follow his vocation into the priesthood, being ordained in 1919. He went on to receive a degree in Canon Law in America followed by a Doctorate at the University of Louvain in Belgium. Then, after spending a period as a priest in a rural parish, he began teaching at both the Catholic University of America and at St Edmund’s College, Ware, England. He had substantial links with the UK, being a friend of G.K. Chesterton.
The covers of three special editions
During this time it became apparent that he had a great gift for communication, which has resulted in him now being regarded as one of the greatest preachers of the last century. In 1930 he began the Catholic Hour broadcast on radio which ran for twenty-one years, and on Easter Sunday 1940 he spoke on the first televised religious service in the USA.
But he is perhaps best remembered for his series of 129 programmes of Life is Worth Living, which went out in the 1950s, and his anti-communist message. In 1951 he was consecrated as a Bishop of the Church and on his retirement in 1969 the Pope appointed him Titular Archbishop of Newport in South Wales.
Although outwardly he was a serious person he was also very fond of humour and laughter, so no doubt he shared many a joke with H.V. Morton during their whistle-stop tours through Rome and the Holy Land. He died aged 83 in 1979, the same year in which HVM also died.
In 1999 the late Cardinal O’Connor of New York formally initiated the lengthy process that may in time lead to Fulton Sheen’s sainthood.
(This article was originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.29 on 19 October 2004)
After the armistice of 1918 the little Society of St Barnabas dedicated itself to a simple aim – “No grave on the Western Front, or farther afield still can be regarded as truly consecrated until it has been visited by its rightful warden”. True to its word, as soon as the Imperial War Graves Commission had completed its plans and the War Cemeteries were ready to be visited, for the next seven years St Barnabas set about contacting thousands of the relatives of the fallen and assisting them as they undertook the long pilgrimage until almost every known grave in what had been the Western European theatre of war during the conflict of 1914 to 1918 had been visited.
After that, only one duty remained. The Missing. For those thousands of soldiers lying in France and Belgium who had no known grave the idea was conceived of making the new Menin Gate, spanning the main eastern exit from the old town of Ypres, a memorial to those who had fallen in the Ypres Saleint and whose resting-places were “Known only to God”. The British Missing alone numbered some fifty-five thousand, their names engraved into the walls of the gate, representing almost every regiment and place in the then British Empire.
As a final gesture therefore, St. Barnabas staff and helpers arranged a last pilgrimage enabling seven hundred relatives of the Missing, mostly working women who had lost sons or husbands, to attend the unveiling and dedication of the Menin Gate in 1927. For some this was a severe ordeal, arrangements for travel and accommodation were not always ideal and many were elderly or infirm. But all the Pilgrims endured and returned safely having visited the land in which their men had fallen and seen their names set up in honour above the soil which somewhere contained them.
The passage above was adapted from the introduction to a 1927 publication entitled “Menin Gate Pilgrimage”. This rare volume (only 300 were produced) is roughly A4 size, bound with blue hardback boards and comprises fifty-two pages. It contains a number of articles giving an account of the final pilgrimage of some seven-hundred bereaved relatives to the unveiling of the shrine to the Missing, the new Menin Gate at Ypres, built by the British on land generously given by the Belgian people, through whose previous incarnation so many thousands of troops had marched to the trenches for the last time during the First World War. The publication was produced for those women unable, mostly because of age or disability, to attend the ceremony in person.
One of the most moving sections is entitled Threshold of the Empire (a title given to the Menin Gate during the war) and was written by HV Morton, originally appearing in the Daily Express on 25th July 1927. The full text is given below.
We will remember They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
THRESHOLD OF THE EMPIRE
By H.V. Morton
There were 700 of them from the towns and villages of England. Each one of them has a boy whose grave is known only to God. There are rows of such nameless graves in every cemetery on the Salient. And the mothers had taken their first adventure in travel to see the great white gate on which, engraved among 55,000 others, are the names of their own boys.
In the early sunlight they stood at the station at Ypres holding little bunches of flowers from English gardens. They had guarded them carefully through all the hazards of a Channel crossing. Many a rose had fallen, many a snapdragon had wilted; but the mothers held on to them.
They looked so strange standing there on this foreign platform, with the ghost of an English kitchen behind each one, the ghost of a little street in England, the ghost of a little sitting-room where his picture hangs in a frame.
They were tired and hungry, and a little dazed by the foreign turmoil in which they found themselves. The first thing they noticed as they trooped slowly out in a long line was the old steam tramcar that runs to Kemmel.
“Oh, look!” said one. “That must be the ‘san fairy ann’ Tom used to tell us about!”
And they smiled as the old ‘san fairy ann’ gave its characteristic hiss and meandered casually to some remote objective.
So the mothers entered Ypres.
I shall never forget that sight. I think it was the most touching thing I have seen in Flanders. Their feet moved over the pavé of Ypres, and their eyes, straying from point to point, noticed just the same thing their boys noticed when they walked that same pavé many years ago – the dogs pulling the early morning milkcart.
How the boys hated that!
“Ah, you lazy blighters,” they used to say to the Belgian milkmen.
The Menin Gate during the war
Down a side-street they caught a glimpse of the shattered Cloth Hall. They remembered that. Tom had told them. They passed, without knowing, the site of the old dug-out in which Tom, with indelible pencil marks all over his lip, used painfully to begin a letter: “Dear Mother, …” And “Dear Mother” was walking through Ypres. How incredible that would have seemed to Tom!
They went through the white Menin Gate, where already a great gathering had assembled. When they saw the long line of names on the stone – 55,000 names – tears came into their eyes. Tom was there, a little name on Menin Gate.
They sat in special enclosures, and watched the hot sunlight fall on the white stone and on the sitting lion over the portico who gazes out over the Salient. They thought he was a “nice” lion. He looked very proud.
They did not know that they were sitting on the road to Hell Fire Corner. Oh, Ghost of Ypres, what sight could amaze you more than that of “Dear Mother” so near to Hell Fire Corner holding a bunch of flowers from the front garden at home?
Then the ceremony began …
The buglers stood facing the Menin road, and blew their call towards the old front line.
No sooner had their last note faded than the pipers of the Scots Guards, standing outlined against the sky, high on the great rampart, played the lament, “The Flowers of the Forest,” and the wind, catching the sound of the wild Highland pipes, carried it out over the Salient, over the little dips and hollows in the green fields which were once trenches. There were dim eyes in Ypres to-day.
The sound of the pipes in that place was indescribable. One forgot the Menin Gate, the crowd, the very scene itself, and one’s thoughts went out into the open country, where the corn now waves and flowers grow, and one waited there with aching heart at the end; waited, it seemed, for some signal which should have come from out there along the Menin road.
The King and the generals went, the officers of state and the guards of honour departed, leaving the Menin Gate to the mothers of England. They came to it bravely, so bravely and calmly, holding their little posies of English flowers. All one could do was to put one’s arm in theirs, as if they had been one’s own mother, and, pointing high up on Menin Gate, spell out a name to them.
“That’s him,” they said, and cried a little.
Then they hung their appealing flowers on Menin Gate; little clusters of rambler roses, snapdragons, lilies, all from England. The wind of God will take the message of these English flowers and bear it over those little lost corners of a foreign field which are “For Ever England.”
(Originally circulated on 11/11/20 as HVM Society Snippet – No.269)
I was lucky enough to spot this copy of Illustrated Magazine for sale online and even luckier to be able to acquire it before anyone else got to it! On arrival I discovered it was in a very fragile state so I photographed it and archived it post haste but I thought you might be interested in hearing about it.
The subject is the 25th wedding anniversary of King George VI and “his queen Elizabeth“. The central article is written by HV Morton and I have enclosed it below along with a few pictures and adverts to give an impression of the journal. As ever with publications of this age it is the advertisments which give a real feel for the times. Everything from constipation cures to budgie seed and catarrh pastilles (to prevent your husband catching a cold!) to invitations to join the women’s land army all reflect the anxieties and interests of the day.
In the article, Morton demonstrates his expertise by giving a ‘broad-brush’ view of history as he recounts a potted overview of the 25 years of the King’s marriage which, as you would imagine, were some pretty turbulent years. He describes Britain between the wars as it was at the time of their marriage, “an agitator called Adolf Hitler [who] was frequently in trouble with the police“, the birth of their children including the future monarch HRH Queen Elizabeth, the coming of the wireless and the later bombing of Buckingham Palace in the blitz. Morton also mentions the abdication of Edward VIII which resulted in George’s surprise elevation to the throne in 1936 – a difficult subject that HVM handles like the expert he was.
It is a testament to Morton’s hard work and popularity that there are still unexpected articles like this to be found and to thrill us even after all these years.
Silver Wedding Yearby H. V. MORTON
(Photographed by William Vanderson)
On this April 26, King George and Queen Elizabeth will have been married twenty-five years. As they drive on Monday to St. Paul’s, the memories of the years will flood back, years of happiness, years of war. And now the nation will rejoice in this Silver Anniversary of a King and Queen who have become so much a part of our everyday life.
Since the King and Queen were married twenty-five years ago, a new generation which includes their daughter, Princess Elizabeth, has, to the astonishment of its elders, come of age. Looking back upon this quarter of a century to the royal wedding day in 1923, what do we see?
In 1923 George V and Queen Mary had still many years to reign. The war with the Kaiser’s Germany had been over for five years, and the ex-Emperor, who had just married a second time, was exiled in a country house on the Dutch-German border. In England the emotions of the war, the memories of the trenches and the gaps in family circles were the background to life.
Men still talked of the Somme, the Aisne and the Marne. Although the land fit for heroes was still invisible to the most searching gaze, there was a widespread hope that the League of Nations was the instrument that would end war for ever.
Once a year, in November, the nation gathered in a mood of raw emotion round the Cenotaph and at the grave of the Unknown Warrior, which were then new features among the sights of London.
Some English names of the time, whose owners are no longer with us, spring to mind: Asquith and Lloyd George, Bonar Law and Baldwin, Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden, Austen and Neville Chamberlain, French, Haig, Beattie and Jellicoe. British occupation troops were still in Cologne and also in Constantinople. Statesmen were still holding conferences in Europe.
The French had marched into the Ruhr to secure the non-payment of reparations by the beaten foe. Germany was an uneasy republic, and an agitator called Adolf Hitler was frequently in trouble with the police. All Italy was giving the Roman salute under Mussolini, who had been in power for six months. Lenin was alive in Russia, where Leningrad was still called Petrograd.
Although there were a million and a half unemployed in Britain, and bands of ex-soldiers roamed the pavements with musical instruments, there was a feeling in the air— the good old English feeling—that everything would come out all right in the long run The great exhibition at Wembley was nearly ready—the giant stadium was in fact complete—and the country was full of American tourists who had come to see what England looked like after the war. The Blue Train ran every day from Calais to Monte Carlo and it was a smart and daring deed to fly to Paris in a Handley Page.
In 1913 the new invention of wireless broadcasting was going ahead. The “cat’s whisker” and headphone sets were being replaced by valve sets fitted with a loudspeaker. Whenever anyone acquired one of these new sets friends were invited to drop in and hear it.
Films were still silent and were shown to the sound of continuous piano or orchestral music. A Chinese game called mah-jongg swept the country. In this year, 1923, Sergeant Murphy won the Grand National. Papyrus won the Derby and Oxford won the Boat Race. There was tremendous excitement all over the world! when the tomb of Tutankhamen was opened in Egypt and the golden coffin of the pharaoh was discovered.
Lilac Time was at the Lyric; Hassan with golden-voiced Ainley at the Haymarket; The Last Waltz with Jose Collins at the Gaiety, and R.U.R.—the play that gave the word “robot” to the language—at the St. Martin’s. The country was said to be dance mad. Night clubs and cabarets, with floor shows were the rage in London.
A catchword, which was a hangover from the previous year when Professor Emile Coué came here to preach auto-suggestion, was, “Every day in every way I get better and better.” Women looked like bundles because the waistline had descended to the hips, and cloche hats, like inverted basins, occupied every female head.
The social historian, glancing back to this period, will note as one of the most remarkable facts that the strength and popularity of the monarchy in Britain was no idle or servile phrase. The war which had shaken half the thrones of Europe had the effect of bringing the Crown and the people closer together in this country. George V and Queen Mary had presided over the nation during the first year of real sorrow and adversity it had known for generations, and, the war over, they continued to identify themselves with every aspect of the nation’s life.
The King in silk hat and frock-coat, or full-dress uniform, and the Queen in a powder-blue toque, and with umbrella or parasol, were the two most familiar and popular figures in the country. Their four sons and their daughter, who were children when the war began in 1914, were now old enough to deputize for their parents; and the greatest affection, here and overseas, was reserved for the gay young Prince of Wales. Everything he did or said was world news. His hatred of publicity and photography only endeared him the more to the millions of people who demanded to know everything he did.
The genuine affection in which the Royal Family was held may have surprised George V, who, from a severe, punctilious monarch, mellowed and sweetened in his later years into the father of his country. In the years to come the radio was to discover in him the most perfect broadcaster of our time. Once a year the King’s rich and guttural voice was carried, regally affectionate, into every home on Christmas Day, offering kind words and good advice.
This then was something of the general background of life when in 1923 the young Duke of York was the first of the King’s four sons to marry. He was well liked everywhere although he had been completely overshadowed by his elder brother. The Duke had served at the Battle of Jutland and later, as a group commander in the R.F.C., had taken his pilot’s certificate. He was a good enough tennis player to figure at Wimbledon. It was reported that he was seriously minded, and those who knew saw in him a notable resemblance to his father.
His marriage was popular for two reasons. It was not a foreign alliance. He had fallen in love with a charming British girl, the daughter of an ancient Scottish family. Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. She did not feature in the social gossip of those times or belong to what was known as the “smart set” or the “bright young people.” All the general public knew of her was that she was content to live a country life as one of a large family, spending most of the year in Hertfordshire and moving in the autumn to the famous family seat in Scotland, Glamis Castle.
When people saw her photograph in the newspapers and noted her clear, frank eyes and her smile, they said to themselves that she was just the kind of girl the Prince of Wales ought to marry— just the kind of girl, in other words, who would be a perfect future Queen! That was the second reason why the wedding was popular. It seemed that the Duke of York had given an admirable lead to his elder brother.
The wedding morning of Thursday, April 26, was grey and damp. To the disappointment of the crowds, the Guards who lined the Mall wore greatcoats, and when the royal carriages came bowling along from the Palace the Life Guards wore crimson cavalry cloaks. But as the bells of Westminster pealed out after the service, the struggling sun appeared for the first time, and cheers greeted the Duke and Duchess of York all the way as the wedding landau took them from the Abbey to the Palace. Who could have guessed that those mighty cheers greeted the future King and Queen?
For the next thirteen years the Duke and Duchess of York lived a busy public life. The year after their marriage they paid a State visit to Northern Ireland, and late the same year went to East Africa on a visit that was half mission and half hunting trip. In April, 1926, there was rejoicing throughout the Commonwealth when the Duke and Duchess became the parents of a daughter.
Princess Elizabeth was born in Bruton Street, at the London home of her maternal grandparents, and she was baptized in Jordan water at the Private Chapel, Buckingham Palace. Her arrival in the world appeared to set the seal upon a marriage that was obviously a happy one.
Leaving their child, then barely six months of age, in the charge of Queen Mary, the Duke and Duchess left the country for six months on a visit to New Zealand and Australia. In Canberra the Duke opened the new Parliament House and the couple returned to England in the summer of 1927.
At home the Duke of York, whose interest in industrial history and factory life was a serious study backed by an extensive and well read library, made a series of tours through industrial England, more complete than any ever made by a member of the royal house. Much of his spare time was occupied with the Industrial Welfare Society and in a summer camp at the seaside where every year he entertained hundreds of boys.
Speaking of the opening of this camp, where he was so often pictured in shorts and sweater with his young guests, he once said: “I look forward to that day from one year’s end to another.” And people, opening their newspapers and watching the newsreels of that time, knew that the cameras had not lied when they showed the Duke merrily staging “Underneath the Spreading Chestnut Tree”—with actions!
In 1930 Princess Margaret was born at Glamis Castle and for the next few years tremendous interest was shown all over the world in the lives of the two little princesses. The London home of the Duke and Duchess of York was 145 Piccadilly, near Hyde Park Comer, a house that was badly blitzed during the war.
There was a time which all Londoners will remember—between 1930 and 1936—when every head on every omnibus that passed along Piccadilly turned towards No. 145 in the hope, often realized, of catching a glimpse of the princesses at the window of their nursery. There were other days at Windsor, with the band playing and the geraniums glowing in the flower beds, when the public saw with delight the old King and Queen Mary with their two grandchildren.
To anyone who lived through those times it seems in retrospect that they contained an unusual number of sunny days. Yet, looking back upon them seriously, and in the light of present knowledge, how full of omens and steadily mounting peril they were! Germany, no longer the battered republic of the twenties, was a land of marching men under Hitler. Italy, not to be outdone, was building Roman archways in North Africa and preparing to gas the Abyssinians. Still the statesmen held conferences and hoped that everything would come out all right in the end, as indeed the country did, too.
The year 1932 was a year of appalling depression and unemployment here and in America. That was the year suicides threw themselves from skyscraper windows, the year of the Means Test, of hunger marches on London. It was the year of the Ottawa Conference and the Disarmament Conference and the Lausanne Conference. It was the year F. D. Roosevelt was elected President in America; the year everyone went mad about Amy Johnson, the airwoman; the year Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly the Atlantic; the year the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped.
The tempo of those days was set by Germany. In 1934 old Marshal Hindenburg died and Hitler then came to supreme power. This was a year of deaths and assassinations. The Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss was assassinated by the Nazis. King Alexander of Jugoslavia was assassinated. Albert, King of the Belgians, died while mountaineering, ex-King Alfonso of Spain died after a motor accident. In this year there was a plebiscite in the Saar which, of course, decided to return to Germany.
Hitler, no longer the shabby figure in an old raincoat, blossomed forth in uniform with a swastika on his arm and he was always surrounded by shouting, chanting figures in brown shirts with uplifted arms. In this year the first Jewish refugees began to arrive from Germany.
In 1936 the old King died to the accompaniment of a nation’s sorrow. George V was symbolic of an age, and with him that age ended and a new one, whose portents were only too clear and too terrifying, was ready to begin. The Prince of Wales was proclaimed King as Edward VIII, but soon afterwards came the news of his abdication. Thus, in a few weeks of crisis, the Duke of York, with who knows what trepidation, saw himself suddenly faced with the ordeal of the Crown.
Those who have written books about him say that at first he hesitated from the modest fear that he would not be acceptable to the nation, or that he was not fit to assume the kingship, but when it was pointed out to him that it was his solemn duty to step into the place his brother had left, he hesitated no longer, and with his Duchess by his side he solemnly dedicated himself to his new task.
If the nation had been drawn to him before, the mood now changed overnight to one of admiration and respect. It was with a feeling of sorrow and regret that we said farewell to a prince of spirit and great promise, one whose services to the Commonwealth were beyond compare, but at the same time it was with a feeling that life had become normal again that we saw King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with their daughters upon their Coronation Day in 1937.
It would be necessary to go far back in history to discover an occasion when a king ascended the throne in this country under more trying and ominous circumstances. To have done so after the abdication was in itself hard enough, but to become King in a world that was obviously moving towards war demanded the highest courage and resolution.
The splendour of the Coronation was hardly over when their Majesties set out on a visit to France, followed later by a visit to Canada and the United States. By this time the humiliations of appeasement were complete and war was only a matter of time. That time came in September, 1939, and then for years a veil of necessary secrecy was drawn over the King, the Queen and their daughters.
But behind the curtain of secrecy precautions the King and the Queen embarked upon a wartime life that still further endeared them to their people. They did not send their children abroad as many of their subjects did, and they kept the Royal Standard flying at the masthead of Buckingham Palace, a sight that cheered London on many a dreary day.
It is something of a revelation to read an admirably written book entitled “The Royal Family in Wartime”, which was published in 1945 and is, so far as I am aware, the only account in existence of the wartime life of the King and Queen.
“The second year of the war began dramatically for the King,” it is there stated, “who held an investiture in Buckingham Palace during an air raid on September 3—the first time British subjects had been decorated by their king under bombardment from the sky. . . . On September 9 Mr. Morrison came to the Palace in his capacity as Minister of Home Security, and told the King of the distress in the East End after several severe attacks in which many homes had been destroyed and heavy casualties inflicted.
“The King immediately replied that he would go in person to the affected areas, and he set off immediately, with little formality and only the shortest and most scanty preparation, on the first of many scores of visits to scenes of devastation that he and the Queen were to make together or separately. . . . But by going directly, as he so often did, to the scene of raid damage and walking through the debris in the streets where unexploded bombs and land mines might still lie concealed, the King—at the cost of the peace of mind of the officials who were responsible for his safety— was now setting a new standard of monarchy.
“This, after all, was the work of the supreme representative; his people had been struck by the enemy, their homes wrecked and their dear ones killed; and the King saw it as his paramount duty to be immediately among them, bringing the assurance that the whole of their countrymen, for whom he alone could speak, were with them in sympathy.
“On that first visit to the bombed out victims in the East End nothing in the King’s manner conveyed any hint of his knowledge that at that moment a time bomb weighing 250 pounds was lying in his own home at Buckingham Palace and might explode at any minute. It did, in fact, explode the next day. . .”
Buckingham Palace was bombed nine times during the war, and suffered in the last year both from the V1 and the V2. The first time the King and Queen were in the Palace when it was hit was at 11 a.m. on September 13, 1940.
Their Majesties, hearing the enemy planes overhead, looked out of the windows in time to see a string of five bombs come down, wrecking the Chapel and smashing a hundred windows. Two days later a bomb which did not explode crashed through the Queen’s apartments to the ground floor.
When their Majesties appeared, as they so often did, in tube shelters, rest centres and dugouts, they were able to talk with those they met not only with sympathy and confidence but also with fellow feeling. Their visits to shipyards and factories took them all over the country. The King went farther afield. He paid six visits to the Fleet at Scapa Flow. He was constantly in the front-line stations of the R.A.F. observing both Fighter and Bomber Commands in action. He paid five visits to the battle zones, to North Africa, Italy, Normandy and finally to Belgium and the Netherlands. He saw more actual battle than any king since George II, who was present at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743.
Although so little was allowed to appear at the time, the country, especially those parts that were suffering, knew that the King and the Queen were never absent when their presence could bring courage and help. The photographs which show them picking their way through still-warm damage, talking to shelterers in every type of shelter, inspecting A.R.P. and N.F.S. units with the dust of conflict still upon them, must be the most remarkable series of pictures ever taken of a king and queen.
It has been their task to take the prestige of the Crown and to maintain it as it was in the reign of George V. In this they have been successful. That they have been able to do so in an ago of revolution is a tribute to their goodness and their sense of service. They have also brought Crown and people even closer together during the war years, and in doing so they have shown the virtues of a monarchy that is above politics but not above kindness and understanding. There was never a time, even during the last reign, when a closer human relationship existed between the people and the occupants of the Throne.
King George is also the first king to inherit not an Empire but a number of self-governing, free nations scattered all over the world. In this Commonwealth force and obedience have been replaced by loyalty and sentiment. The King is not a king emperor in the old sense, but a king of many separate countries linked to the mother country only by their affection for the Crown. In this the Sovereign is unique in the history of kingship.
And now, fortunate in their marriage and truly wedded to their people by their own qualities and by shared experience, their Majesties will drive in state to St. Paul’s upon the twenty-fifth anniversary of their wedding. Their daughters, who disappeared from view as little girls when the war came, to emerge now as graceful and charming young women, will go to church with their parents, and those who see them, and remember them as little children watching the buses in Piccadilly from a nursery window, will marvel how swiftly time has flown.
It may appear to some incredible that the little “Princess Lizbet” of, it seems, only yesterday, is now a happy young bride with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, by her side.
The two princesses have certainly not been born into a fairy tale. Their childhood has been spent in a bitter and tragic world, and almost the only touch of splendour and regality they have known was their recent tour of the Union of South Africa.
Of all the figures who will be seen on the day of the Silver Jubilee, one who will arrest the eye and call forth the admiration and affection of every man and woman who remembers the last Quarter of a century is Queen Mary. If it may be said that George V handed on a sense of duty to his son, it is surely from his mother that he inherits a courage that has placed a new authority in his manner and has held him on his course during the difficult years since his accession.
Queen Mary may feel upon April 26 that the many sorrows that have touched her are redeemed by the sight of King George VI and his queen Elizabeth as they kneel in London’s great church upon this milestone in their lives.
(This article was originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.266 on 9 September 2020)
This post is an expanded and adapted version of HVM Society Morton Family History Note – No.11, by Peter Devenish, originally circulated in 2012.
Chester Square, Ashton-under-Lyne (The Mortons’ house is shown fourth from the right of the row houses.)
Today, the 26th of July, marks the 128th anniversary of the birth of HV Morton, indisputably one of the greatest journalists in the English-speaking world and the most popular travel writer of his time.
Henry Canova Vollam Morton (Harry) was the first-born child of Joseph Thomas Vollam Morton, a journalist born in India, and his wife Marguerite (Margaret) May Constance McClean Ewart from Invergordon in Scotland. Baby Harry was delivered on 26 July 1892 in one of the large row houses at 17 Chester Square, next to the Ashley Arms pub, in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, England. He died at his home in South Africa on 17 June 1979. The house in which Morton was born has long since been demolished for redevelopment of the area.
Harry’s sister, Marguerite Ann Morton, was born at the same house in Ashton on 14 August 1895 and she survived Harry by two years. There were no other children from the marriage of Joseph and Margaret.
Joseph & Margaret Morton
Much has been written elsewhere (not least in many HVM Society bulletins) about Morton’s outstanding career in journalism and his pre-eminent position as a travel writer but a brief summary might be of interest here.
After being inspired by a small Egyptian statue in Birmingham Art Gallery, Morton wrote an article about it which to his delight was published in The Connoisseur magazine in 1914, earning him two guineas. Following this early success, to use Morton’s own words his fate was cast, and he went on to become the best-selling travel writer of his day, selling millions of copies of his books and producing uncountable numbers of newspaper and magazine articles. His writings between the wars and in the immediate aftermath of the second world war brought comfort and hope to millions of readers during times of great hardship. Even now he is referred to in many a modern book or essay on the subject of travel in Britain, the Middle East and elsewhere and he continues to be celebrated today by the HV Morton Society.
A blue plaque acknowledging the town’s distinguished son was unveiled at Ashton-Under-Lyne on 21 May 2004. Because the Morton home had long been demolished for redevelopment of the area, the plaque was subsequently mounted on a marble base in the up-market renovation now known as Henry Square, 100 metres from the site of Morton’s birth.
The blue plaque in recognition of HV Morton
On this special day I and countless others give thanks for the many hours of pleasure that HV Morton has given and continues to give through his writing.
HV Morton set great store by hats and was rarely photographed without one. In his 1951 “In Search of London” he made it clear that he considered hats a barometer of society. He wrote of “modern London” only a few years after he had reported there during the blitz that it was now a place “of jagged ruins and hatless crowds”, an altogether shabbier, graver and sadder place than it had been in previous times. To Morton London now felt “provincial”, a city where “it was no longer possible to distinguish a lord from a navvy, a poor man from a rich one”. A creature of a different age, Morton seemed to feel like a stranger in the city he had once been so familiar with.
A recent event however, somewhere in London, suggests the tide may be turning very slghtly, in a way Morton would have surely approved.
Michael Hagon, a member of the HV Morton Society, has a love of all things London and of HV Morton having acquired his first volume – Morton’s earliest book, “The Heart of London” – some years ago. He also happens to be the manager of one of the most venerated and historical shops in the world, Lock & Co Hatters of St James’s, which dates back to the 17th century.
Recently he wrote to me:
It may be of interest to you to know that we have just made a limited edition eight piece cap made from Escorial wool called “Morton”, the perfect cap to wear when exploring the “Heart of London”. I thought it was time HV was honoured at Locks!
I couldn’t agree more – the hat has a robust and stylish look and is a fitting tribute to one of the best known and best dressed interwar travel writers, Henry Canova Vollam Morton.
With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
This post was previously circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.254